Alumni appointed to the Order of Canada

Two U of S alumni have received one of the country’s highest civilian honours by being appointed to the Order of Canada.

Karim (Kay) Nasser and Harold Orr were recently appointed to the Order, which recognizes Canadians for their outstanding achievement, dedication to the community and service to the nation.

Dr. Kay Nasser (Photo: Liam Richards)

Nasser, who earned his PhD and taught civil engineering at the U of S for 33 years, is a passionate long-time supporter of the university. His appointment to the Order is in honor of his contributions to civil engineering and community development, and for his philanthropy in support of education, health care and the arts.

Nasser and his family have donated more than $13.5 million to the U of S, and continue to support students annually through The Nasser Family Emergency Student Trust and the Nasser Scholarship Fund, which has helped hundreds of students over the years.

In addition to his support of the U of S, Nasser has been a pillar in supporting various community institutions from the Remai Modern Art Gallery, Saskatoon Public Library, Saskatchewan Polytechnic, and all four city hospitals, including the new Jim Pattison Children’s Hospital.

Alumnus Harold Orr received both a Bachelor of Science in Engineering, and a Master of Science from the U of S, and is known as a pioneer of energy-efficient home building in Canada. His research led to the concept of passive solar design, which allows homes to retain heat from the sun through structural design. Orr’s appointment to the Order is in recognition of his contributions as a housing engineer who promotes energy efficiency and conservation in Canadian homes.

Threading the past into the present

Catherine Blackburn (center) with her sister and mother at the Saskatchewan Arts Awards, hosted by the Remai Modern. Blackburn’s artwork is inspired by her relationship with her family.

When Catherine Blackburn (BFA’07) enrolled in the Studio Art program at the University of Saskatchewan, she had never taken a formal art class. “I had the typical elementary art class experience, but nothing along the lines of learning to use a photography dark room or printmaking lab,” she explains. Arriving in Saskatoon with its bustling campus, Catherine set out to find her way—not only as an artist, but an individual.

Blackburn was born in Île-à-la-Crosse, Saskatchewan, and lived in the nearby community of Patuanak before relocating to the rural town of Choiceland, Saskatchewan. As a member of the English River First Nation, she felt displaced from her community after the move. “I didn’t get to build relationships with my extended family the same way as my cousins or even my older siblings. This shift resulted in me not learning the Dene language, creating another barrier of communication when visiting. The traditional Dene ways of life didn’t play a large role in my life,” she explains.

The U of S would expose Blackburn to a number of different art mediums, from painting to printmaking. As she began to create, themes of identity, culture and language began to emerge in her practice: she began exploring her history and heritage. “What started as a place of disconnect really evolved into a place of celebration,” says Blackburn. “I feel my voice has grown stronger, I am more confident in myself—not just as an artist—but as a representative of Aboriginal voice and experience.”

Photograph courtesy of the artist

“But There’s No Scar?” (left) Beads on deer hide, by Catherine Blackburn. Detail (right). Photograph courtesy of the artist

These days Blackburn’s kitchen table moonlights as a workspace for her art. Scattered across the wooden surface are bags of brightly-coloured beads, thimbles, scissors and containers of porcupine quills. With a needle in hand, Blackburn threads one miniscule bead after another, until her artwork takes form. “It can take anywhere between two to 500 hours to complete a piece depending on the size and complexity of the pattern,” she explains.

Blackburn’s dedication to the craft has not gone unnoticed. This year, she was presented the RBC Emerging Artist Award by the Saskatchewan Arts Board. The award recognizes an emerging Saskatchewan artist who demonstrates exceptional promise through early notable accomplishments. In addition to the prestigious title, Blackburn was awarded a cash prize. “I feel incredibly honoured. It is validation but, being the perfectionist that I am, it is also pressure. Prestige has its place, but to cultivate it in a way that is beneficial on a community level is a goal of mine.”

Since proclaiming herself as an artist, Blackburn has worked tirelessly to not only earn a living with her craft, but to share her own journey with others. By connecting with her heritage through family members’ experiences and traditions, as well as her own, she hopes that her art will be a catalyst for continued dialogue about the Indigenous experience in Canada. “After viewing my work, I hope people have a clearer understanding of how different and expansive the Canadian experience is and to be empathetic towards those experiences. I hope they walk away wanting to be involved in this discussion.”

Photograph courtesy of the artist

“Our Mother(s) Tongue”, by Catherine Blackburn. Seed beads, pins, velvet, gel photo transfer, cotton. Photograph courtesy of the artist

For Blackburn, art has been a place where she has been able to find a voice. By merging traditional Dene practices with modern concepts, she is able to tell a story that uniquely hers. “As I get older and navigate my way through these feelings, my focus is no longer centered on the loss, but has evolved to appreciate my own perspectives and experiences. I have coveted those memories of the north and use them in making new ones as I connect the dots in my journey. It becomes a map of my growth and I can appreciate the ways in which traditions and culture have formed and inform my practice.”

Blackburn’s artwork can be viewed here.

Happy holidays, from your Alumni Association President

For many of us, the holiday season is a ‘finish line’ of sorts; a proper demarcation point between the end of the year and the promise and possibility of the year ahead.

This year, the U of S Alumni Association continued its celebration of 100 years and millions of memories. During our centennial, we brought the celebrations to our alumni throughout the country and across the border with several alumni guest speakers. The 100th anniversary of the establishment of the Alumni Association was the perfect opportunity to re-connect with our alumni who have made their mark in Saskatchewan and beyond.
As we recognized 100 years of the Alumni Association, it was also a year of firsts. We celebrated volunteerism–an essential component of Saskatchewan’s DNA–at the inaugural Volunteer Summit in March. Lending your time and talent is a great way to stay connected with your alma mater in 2018.

We also welcomed back hundreds of alumni to campus for our first-ever Alumni Weekend with an action-packed schedule of events and activities to cap off our centennial festivities. Stay tuned for details on our next Alumni Weekend in 2018.

Huskie pride was on full display at Homecoming 2017, as more than 8,000 fans packed Griffiths Stadium to cheer on the Huskies to victory over the University of Alberta Golden Bears. Homecoming was an amazing opportunity to connect with our alumni, and experience first-hand the excitement and enthusiasm of our alumni and future alumni.

In October, we honoured nine superlative alumni at the Alumni Achievement Awards. This year’s class of award recipients personify the great heights that can be achieved with a degree from the University of Saskatchewan.

As an alumna, I am inspired when I get the opportunity to share time with our alumni. Each alum has an interesting story about why they chose to pursue education at the U of S. They each have a unique career path and accomplishments; they are leaders and innovators; they are philanthropists and educators; researchers and athletes; activists and actors; and they embody how our university serves our communities and the world.

The holidays are also an important time to reconnect with your family and friends. As members of the 150,000-strong alumni community, we share a lifelong connection to this proud university we call our alma mater. In 2018, I encourage you to take advantage of this special bond. There are many opportunities and events and we welcome your involvement.

On behalf of the Alumni Association board of directors and staff, best wishes to you and your family for a wonderful holiday season and health and happiness in 2018!

Kelly Strueby (BComm’84)
President, University of Saskatchewan Alumni Association

Leave a message for students during December Final Exams

Starting Friday, Dec. 8, U of S students will be hard at work in preparation for their final exams. Do you have some advice, study tips, personal experience from your college, an inspirational quote or words of encouragement? Leave a message for students who are in the exam crunch. Messages will be posted and displayed for students in Murray Library throughout December Final Exams.

Sociology professor receives national equity award

Quinlan, an associate professor in the Department of Sociology and an associate member of the Women’s and Gender Studies Program, accepted the Canadian Association of University Teachers (CAUT) Equity Award at a CAUT meeting in Ottawa on Nov. 25.

In her nomination, Quinlan was cited as a “fearless” researcher who combines academic scholarship with effective work for the betterment of society. She is active in promoting fair hiring practices and combating sexual violence.

Quinlan was a driving force behind the 2016 stage production With Glowing Hearts: How Ordinary Women Worked Together to Change the World (and Did). Based on Quinlan’s research into the historical role of women in Canada’s labour movement, the play received the Best of Fest Award at the PotashCorp Fringe Festival and brought awareness of a little-known chapter in history to a large audience.

Quinlan is a founding member of the Coalition Against Sexual Assault. Among other roles, she has served in the Women’s Reference Group of Saskatchewan’s Labour Force Development Board and been a board member of the Saskatoon Sexual Assault and Information Centre and the Saskatchewan chapter of the Canadian Research Institute for the Advancement of Women.

The mighty Hughes returns

As the leading institution in Canada for building reconciliation, it was a natural fit for the University of Saskatchewan to host one of Canada’s foremost advocates in the court systems concerning colonization.

Alumnus of Influence Ted Hughes (BA’48; LLB’50) and author Craig McInnes visited the College of Law for a book signing and public talk as part of the U of S Canada 150 Book Series. The biography, The Mighty Hughes: From Prairie Lawyer to Western Canada’s Moral Compass, details the life and career of Hughes, and as the title implies, there is no space for mediocrity between its pages.

Ted Hughes (left) and The Might Hughes author, Craig McInnes (right) sign copies of the book at their event in the College of Law

Hughes’ career has spanned an impressive 60 years in the Canadian judicial system. As a respected senior judge in Saskatchewan, and as deputy attorney general and conflict of interest commissioner for British Columbia and the Northwest Territories, Hughes earned a reputation as someone who would deliver the right resolution. Noted for defending principles that underpin the best of our society, his career carried the weight of mending unethical politicians; advocating for children in care; defending equal rights for women in the legal system; and drawing attention to what Hughes believed were the disastrous effects of colonization on Indigenous people.

When asked about the grandiosity of the title—of his life—his response is, unsurprisingly, fair.  “I never felt any pressure with the moral compass designation because I’ve always enjoyed my work,” he says. “Any judge that has the ability to take away the freedom of his fellow citizens understands that that is a pretty onerous piece of responsibility that no judge takes lightly.”

Mighty Hughes touches on a moment of great impact for the legal legend—a day in court that redefined his understanding of the legal system.

Hughes was presiding over a murder case where the defendant was taking the stand in his own defence. It was apparent, Hughes recalls, that the defendant was very frustrated with the process.

Continue reading

U of S alumni success in electronic chip design attracts global giant

Solido Design Automation, a world-leading Saskatoon software development company established by University of Saskatchewan graduates, is expanding its reach and scope under new ownership.

The acquisition of Solido by German technology giant Siemens AG is great news for the firm he co-founded, and great news for the city and the university, said Solido CEO Amit Gupta (BE’99).

“Siemens officials referred to the U of S as a key reason for the acquisition, because of its ability to produce highly skilled and innovative graduates in computer science, engineering and mathematics,” said Gupta.

Solido develops software used in the creation of semiconductor chips for almost all modern electronic devices. The software is created using proprietary machine learning technology, which involves the software itself learning from data, predicting results based on the information, figuring out relevant parameters, mining data for trends, and identifying design problems.

SASKATOON, SK – May 15, 2017 – Solido Design Automation CEO Amit Gupta stands for a photo at his office in Innovation Place in Saskatoon on May 15, 2017. (Michelle Berg / Saskatoon StarPhoenix)

“Siemens wants to keep Solido’s current research and development and custom applications, and grow them further to make Saskatoon a key R and D centre for their digital factory division,” Gupta said.

“Saskatoon is a great place to grow a company.”

He noted that 53 of Solido’s 63 employees at Innovation Place are U of S graduates. Expansion over the next five years anticipated by Siemens to meet its increased needs in the machine learning area mean more jobs and career opportunities for graduates, he said.

“We love hiring locally. We get lots of applications because our employees and applicants have the opportunity to learn from working with some of the world’s biggest companies. We hire internationally, too, and as a result we have some really great talent,” Gupta said.

“We would encourage the U of S to find every opportunity to expand its excellent computer science and engineering programs to meet the growing needs of the technology industry in Saskatchewan.”

Gupta and fellow U of S grad Trent McConaghy (BE’99) formed Solido in 2005, nearly a year after their first company, Analog Design Automation Inc., was bought out by electronic design automation giant Synopsys of California. The venture capital for Solido came from Saskatchewan-based Golden Opportunities Fund and the Business Development Bank of Canada.

Solido quickly became the world leader in helping some major manufacturers design faster, smaller, high performance semiconductor chips with less spoilage during manufacturing. It all adds up to better consumer electronics such as smartphones, tablets, personal computers, credit cards, sensors, and automobiles.

It has customers everywhere from Silicon Valley to Europe, Japan, Taiwan, China, India and South Korea. Among about 40 major companies and two worldwide that rely on Solido’s software are industry giants such as Qualcomm, Nvidia, and IBM.

Gupta says revenues have grown about 50 per cent a year for the past six years. Deloitte Canada placed Solido on its 2016 Technology Fast 50 list that recognizes innovation, leadership and revenue growth. Solido also ranked 425 in Deloitte’s 2017 Technology Fast 500 for North America.

“Now, Solido software is being used to make every modern chip for every modern device,” Gupta said. “We’re proud to be doing that from a company based in Saskatoon and we want to share that story.”

Written by Sarath Peiris is assistant director, Research Profile and Impact.

Bashforth shines a light on Pixar

Byron Bashforth (BSc’96, MSc’99) was a computer science student at the University of Saskatchewan when he saw a trailer for Toy Story.

A light went on. Not the famous Pixar desk-lamp light, but pretty close.

“I remember marvelling that you could do that with a computer,” Bashforth said in a recent phone interview from Pixar Animation Studios, where he’s worked since graduating with his masters in 1998.

Bashforth’s first Pixar film was Toy Story 2. He’s worked on everything from Finding Nemo and The Incredibles to Ratatouille and Up. His latest is Disney/Pixar’s Coco, the story of a Mexican boy who dreams of becoming a musician.

Read more at the Saskatoon StarPhoenix.

Late Huskie alum’s legacy to live on in Merlis Belsher Place

Hanging proudly above the ice in Rutherford Rink, a banner reads, We all play the Cody Smuk way.

It’s one of the many tributes to the late University of Saskatchewan Huskies men’s hockey player, who lost his battle with testicular cancer in 2015. As the Huskies play their final season in the arena, a local business is making sure that Smuk’s legacy lives on when the team begins a new chapter and moves into Merlis Belsher Place next year.

Inland Steel Products, a scrap metal recycling company servicing Saskatchewan, has contributed $150,000 to the Home Ice campaign to create Smuker’s Lounge in Merlis Belsher Place, a gathering spot for players, alumni and friends of Smuk’s to reminisce while cheering on the Huskies.

Cody Smuk (BComm’15)

Inland Steel Products’ Matt Ditlove said the family-owned business was eager to make a substantial investment back into the community to commemorate its 50th year of operation, and saw an opportunity to honour a family friend at the same time.

“He was one of my closest friends and I wanted to make sure he was never forgotten and always remembered,” Ditlove said. “So myself and my family thought this was a good way to give back, not only to the community that we do business in and operate in, but to make sure his spirit is never forgotten.”

Ditlove said his family is glad to be contributing towards a new facility for the Huskies, as Smuk had often said that a new arena was long overdue.

“He was definitely passionate about getting a new arena for the Huskies and I think he would have been heavily involved in this Home Ice campaign if he was around,” Ditlove said. “So the fact that the lounge is getting built here would have made him pretty proud.”

After Smuk’s passing, the players’ lounge in Rutherford Rink was renamed Smuker’s Lounge in his honour, and has been a central gathering point for old friends and alumni. Smuk’s mother, Darla Smuk, said the family was overwhelmed with emotion when they learned that Smuker’s Lounge would be incorporated into the new arena, and thinks it’s a wonderful way to remember her son.

Members of the Smuk and Ditlove families join together at the Inland Steel Products site in Saskatoon (photo by David Stobbe).

“Cody always liked hosting the team and wanted everyone to have fun,” she said. “To me Smuker’s Lounge represents him hosting his friends and family; a place where they can come together, share a drink, share stories, think of Cody and remember his laugh. It was quite contagious and one of many things we miss the most.”

She said while it’s bittersweet that the Huskies will no longer be playing in Rutherford Rink—a place that holds many special memories for the family—she feels her son would have been thrilled that the Huskies will have a new home.

“I know it meant a lot to Cody to be a part of the Huskies program. He was always very proud to wear the Huskie jersey and do his very best for the team,” she said. “His memory will live on in the new Huskie facility and we can’t thank Matt and his family enough for their kindness and generosity now, and during Cody’s battle with cancer. It means the world to us.”

Roxanne McHattie is a development communications specialist in University Relations.

Alumnae starring in play chosen for Singapore festival

An acclaimed stage play developed by Department of Drama faculty and alumni will represent Canada at an international fringe festival in Singapore this January.

Displaced, a story of three female refugees fleeing to Canada at different points in history, was co-written by Associate Professor Natasha Martina (with Sue Mythen). After several successful performances in Canada, the play caught the attention of the M1 Singapore Fringe Festival, which selected it to be presented at its Jan. 17–28 festival in 2018 as one of four highlighted shows from around the world.

The stars of Displaced (left to right): Emma Laishram, Anna Mazurik (BFAHon’16) and Jacqueline Block (BFA’14). (Photo: S.E. Grummett)










Displaced debuted in 2015 at the Montreal and Saskatoon fringe festivals, earning nominations for best English production and best English text in Montreal. The showhas since drawn crowds around Saskatchewan as part of the 2017 Live Five Independent Theatre season and received four prizes at the recent Saskatoon and Area Theatre Awards.

“The response was overwhelming,” says Martina, who also produced and directed the play. “I think people really wanted to support this piece because it has a message of equality and acceptance and the need to be inclusive.”

The global developments that have made this message so resonant in recent years—including ongoing refugee crises, Brexit and the election of Donald Trump—didn’t factor into the creation of the play, Martina says. She began researching and writing Displaced in 2011 with a simpler goal: telling a story that would have personal meaning to her as a child of immigrants.

“I just knew that immigration and starting a new life was a very large aspect of my growing up: seeing my parents start from nothing to create their own business, to employ 125 people, and to share all the traditions I grew up with that were in two cultures.”

The stars of Displaced include drama alumnae Jacqueline Block (BFA’14) and Anna Mazurik (BFAHon’16). Amberlin Hsu (BFAHon’16) is the stage manager and lighting designer. Assistant Professor of Drama Carla Orosz (BFA’04) designed the set and costumes.

Before heading to Singapore, the cast and crew will give a single performance of Displaced in Saskatoon on Jan. 20. Details and ticket information for that event can be viewed here.

Displaced is produced by Ground Cover Theatre. The Singapore trip is funded by the High Commission of Canada, Creative Saskatchewan and the College of Arts & Science.

Written by Chris Putman